OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday tighter restrictions on bars, restaurants, fitness centers, weddings and funerals as confirmed cases of the new coronavirus rise across Washington.
And in a news conference with Inslee, state Health Secretary John Wiesman announced an expansion of the current requirement for residents to wear facial coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Inslee’s announcement represented the most sweeping set of new restrictions so far to his original four-phase reopening plan, which has let Washington’s 39 counties reopen to varying degrees.
In his news conference, Inslee said experts have told him Washington is now potentially in a place similar to where Florida — currently one of the hardest-hit states with infections — was several weeks ago.
“Our suppression of this virus is not at the level it needs to be to continue … to allow more activity,” said Inslee. “If we let the virus get even more control, it will have an even more devastating impact over the long term in our economy, and certainly in our health and the very lives of our loved ones.”
State health officials Thursday confirmed 762 new COVID-19 cases and 14 more deaths in Washington as of Wednesday night, crossing a 50,000-case milestone.
The new numbers bring the state’s totals to 50,009 confirmed cases and 1,482 deaths, meaning about 3% of people diagnosed in Washington have died, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).
So far, 870,763 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted in the state, per DOH. Of those, 5.7% have come back positive.
Almost every part of the state is “on the path to runaway transmission rates of COVID-19,” state health officials said this week.
They also have said hospitalization rates have not increased dramatically because more young people are testing positive for the virus. But they worry that in the next few weeks, those people will infect older people who are more at risk of hospitalization or death.
Inslee again Thursday encouraged younger people to limit their social gatherings to avoid spreading the virus. Health officials have “traced quite a number of clusters now to social gatherings” of young people, he said.
The restrictions announced Thursday by Inslee include:
- Limited indoor dining at restaurants to members of the same household. People meeting from different households can still dine outdoors.
- No indoor service at any bar, brewery, tavern, winery or distillery, regardless of whether food is being served.
- For counties in the third phase of the four-part plan, restaurant dining-party sizes must be reduced to five, and indoor occupancy to 50%.
- Restaurants must close down game areas, such those for video games, pool tables and darts, until their county has reached the fourth phase.
- Restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.
- Second-phase counties — like King, Pierce and Snohomish — must limit guests of indoor fitness spaces to five at a time. Those indoor places include, but are not limited to, gyms, pools, fitness studios and tennis facilities.
- Third-phase counties must cap indoor fitness occupancy to 25% and not more than 10 people to a group class, not including their instructor.
- Indoor entertainment spaces, like bowling alleys, arcades, mini-golf and card rooms, are not allowed to open until the fourth phase.
- Indoor movie-theater occupancy for counties in the third phase is now limited to 25% capacity.
The new restrictions on businesses are set to take effect July 30, according to Wiesman. Businesses violating the emergency orders could be subject to sanctions, such as fines or business-license suspension.
Business owners with questions about how the emergency orders apply to them can contact the governor’s office via webform at: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/how-you-can-help/covid-19-business-and-worker-inquiries.
The governor also announced a new ban on receptions at weddings and funerals, which will take effect on Aug. 6.
Weddings and funeral services will still be allowed, but they will be restricted in all counties to an indoor occupancy of 20% capacity or up to 30 people, whichever is less.
Wiesman also announced an expansion of the current requirement that people wear facial coverings when in public when they can’t stay 6 feet apart.
Facial coverings will now be required in any common spaces where people can’t socially distance. That includes “places like elevators, hallways and shared spaces in apartments and condominium buildings, university housing, hotels and motels,” said Wiesman. The rule also applies to congregate settings like assisted living facilities, nursing homes and adult family homes.
The new facial-covering order takes effect July 25, Wiesman said.
Some within Washington’s business community have been critical of Inslee’s handling of the pandemic, and Thursday’s announcement was no exception.
Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said the new restrictions on businesses “likely means the end of some of our favorite places in Washington.”
“We’re frustrated that so much of our economy is at risk and disappointed in the announcement,” Anton said in a prepared statement. “Today’s new restrictions on our industry show Washington state is moving in the wrong direction.”
“To save our small businesses, we must beat this virus,” added Anton. “We must bring our employees back to work and reopen our economy. We must demonstrate compliance and commitment in all phases — compliance by our industry and also by our guests.”
The governor Thursday also announced he will extend the current moratorium on evictions through Oct. 15. The order is set to expire Aug. 1.
Inslee implored tenants who can afford to pay their rent to do so. He also announced a work group of landlords and tenants will convene to consider further changes to the order. The governor said he wants the group to also consider the potential for rent increases, which the current emergency order prohibits.
Housing and homelessness experts have warned of a surge of homelessness that could follow once eviction bans expire.
One analysis from Columbia University economist Brendan O’Flaherty published in the spring projected that the U.S. could see a 40% to 45% increase in homelessness — roughly 250,000 people — due to the COVID-related economic downturn.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, more than 8% of renters surveyed in Washington state between July 9 and July 14 said they had no confidence they would be able to pay next month’s rent.
Low-income renters were even less likely to say they could pay rent — more than 14% of survey respondents making less than $35,000 weren’t confident they could make rent next month.
Asked about Inslee’s announcements Thursday afternoon, House Republican Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm said he wasn’t briefed beforehand.
“Since the Governor doesn’t let us know his intentions it’s not possible to have an immediate, thoughtful response to his proposals.” Wilcox said in a statement.
“I do hope that if he is addressing the gatherings where the virus spreads he will pay equal attention to the gatherings in Seattle and Olympia where violence and threats take place with people in close and dangerous proximity to each other,” added Wilcox, referring to recent protests in both cities that have damaged property or targeted the homes of elected officials.
Staff reporters Tan Vinh and Sydney Brownstone contributed to this story.